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Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s veteran opposition leader and now prime minister, is in Washington this week to woo the Obama government to lift its sanctions and give aid to Zimbabwe. Tsvangirai’s visit to the U.S. is part of a three-week tour to other Western capitals to try to raise funds.
And Tsvangirai's visit has brought the cult indie band Dispatch to hold a rare reunion concert.
Tsvangirai has a hard sell. Despite his position as prime minister, he is part of a power-sharing government that is less about sharing than it is about continued power President Robert Mugabe.
Tsvangirai, 57, is meeting with numerous state department officials which will culminate with a meeting with President Barack Obama on Friday. Johnnie Carson, the top U.S. diplomat on Africa, welcomed Tsvangirai but said the Obama administration is troubled by the absence of major reforms.
“There is no indication that the U.S. government is prepared to lift economic sanctions against those in Zimbabwe who have been most responsible for undermining the country's democracy and destroying its economy," said Carson to Reuters. "Increasingly substantial aid is dependent upon them making political concessions and fulfilling the agreements that they have already made and in returning the country back towards more democratic rule."
Carson said the U.S. would continue to provide humanitarian aid, particularly for health services and support to democracy and good governance.
Even as Tsvangirai arrived in Washington, Mugabe in Zimbabwe was showing why the Obama team is reluctant to grant substantial new aid to the government. Mugabe entertained Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in Darfur. And Mugabe’s press team refused entry to a press conference to four journalists, showing that substantial press liberalization is still a long way away.
However it is unlikely that Tsvangirai will leave Washington empty-handed. He can argue that he needs to bring in aid and a relaxation of travel sanctions against Mugabe and his ruling clique, in order to push through the reforms that will start Zimbabwe on the path back to democracy and sound economic management.
On the cultural side, Tsvangirai’s visit is bringing about a rare reunion of the cult indie band, Dispatch. The trio will play an acoustic concert in honor of Tsvangirai at the Kennedy Arts Center on Friday night, which is big news to the band’s fans. Dispatch has for years had a deep commitment to Zimbabwe and their song "Elias" is about a young boy they met on a trip to the Chiredzi area of southern Zimbabwe. Despite very little publicity, the concert is sold out.